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Stress Fractures

Forty-five percent of competitive female runners develop stress fractures, small cracks on the surface of the bones in their legs and feet. The women most likely to suffer these injuries are those who restrict food and those who have irregular periods.

Restricting food can stop a woman from menstruating regularly, which can stop her body from producing the female hormone, estrogen. Lack of estrogen weakens bones. Exercise does not cause irregular periods, not eating enough food does. Women who stop menstruating when they exercise heavily will usually start to menstruate regularly when they eat more food. Some women who suffer stress fractures will not heal until they take estrogen or other bone strengthening medications such as etidronate.

Stress fractures usually start out as a minor discomfort in the foot or leg, that occurs near the end of a long run. Usually the pain goes away as soon as the athlete stops running. On the next day, the pain returns earlier in the run. If she notices that it hurts to touch just one spot on a bone and then stops running for a week, she can return to running quickly, but usually she ignores the pain and develops a full- blown stress fracture and hurts all the time. She now has to avoid the hard pounding of running, but can ride a bike or swim for exercise until the fracture heals in 6 to 12 weeks. The most common sites for stress fractures are the bones in the front of the feet, and the long bone of the lower leg, but running can cause stress fractures anywhere, even in the pelvic bones. I often prescribe bone strengthening medications such as Fosamax to people with stress fractures that do not heal in six months.
More on stress fractures

1) KL Bennell, SA Malcolm, SA Thomas, PR Ebeling, PR Mccrory, JD Wark, PD Brukner. Risk factors for stress fractures in female track-and-field athletes: A retrospective analysis. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine 5: 4 (OCT 1995):229-235.

2) CA Haberland, D Seddick, R Marcus, LK Bachrach. A physician survey of therapy for exercise-associated amenorrhea: A brief report. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine 5: 4 (OCT 1995):246-250.

Checked 1/8/11

June 5th, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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